In today's review I will talk about the game Rocket Age and its supplement Blood Red Mars, both published by Cubicle Seven.
Rocket Age is a game clearly inspired by North American pulp magazines of science-fiction and anticipation of the first half of the 20th century and the space opera genre with examples like Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories or Planet Stories magazines and serial films like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers entre muchos otros.
In the basic manual of the game you will find the following contents:
Recent History and Solar System description
The background of the game takes us to the 30s decade of the last century and describe how in April 19th of 1931 the Eagle rocket piloted by Ray Armstrong and built by Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein and Robert Goddard lifts off from Tesla's laboratory in New York and reaches planet Mars after a 200 days voyage. In the red planet Einstein and Tesla make contact with natives, which leads to signing treaties between Earth and Mars ruling castes and the obtention of access to advanced technology known by Martian civilization from a long time ago (including typical objects in space opera genre like ray guns). From this moment Earth powers (United States, British Empire, French Republic, Nazi Germany, Soviet Union...) begins to send expeditions which will mean the appearance of colonies and outposts in most of the Solar System.
In this first part it's also possible to find a description of the planets of the Solar System, including the summary of history of each one, its geographical description and of its inhabitants, whether natives or foreigners coming from other worlds (including characters players may meet), and a list of ideas referees can use to develop their own adventures.
Among the worlds where terrestrial presence is most important stands out Mars, whose decaying civilization couldn't avoid powers begininig the colonization of the barren planet conquering Martian city-states and principalities, establishing influence zones through protectorates and backing warring factions, something that has caused Mars to become immersed in a state of permanent war.
it's also possible to find terrestrials in Venus, a virtually unexplored jungle planet (something very typical in some pulp stories) hiding secrets waiting to be discovered and great mineral wealth available to all who are willing to exploit it, and exploration vanguards in the outer system planets, like the expeditions to Jupiter high atmosphere layers and zoological expeditions to one of its moons, Calisto, always under the supervision of the mysterious inhabitants of the moon Europa, menacing to desintegrate anyone wanting to know too much or step beyond the limits that have been assigned (something they wanted to make clear allowing Earthlings to visit the ruins on the moon Io for three months, so they could see the devastation that could cause if they believed necessary ...).
Character creation: alien types, occupations, attributes, skills and traits
With the beginning of the second part takes place the character creation process with the following process:
Players have 42 points to spend choosing the species they belong and their occupation (giving them predefined scores in attributes and skills and specific traits).
Species which can be chosen include all the Solar System and are the following ones:
- Earthlings (not much to say about it, isn't it?).
- Europeans (enigmatic beings, 3 meters high with oval head, bald and seven-fingered hands inhabiting the jovian moon Europa).
- Ganymedians (plants and fungi colonies adopting a thin humanoid form inhabiting the jovian moon Ganymede).
- Ioites (inhabiting Io, another of the Jupiter moons, humanoids with twisted and poisoned bodies result of contamination realted to attacks carried out at their home by the elusive Europan).
- Martians, whose seven castes, physically different but somehow related, are the following ones (and here you can clearly see Barsoom influence by Edgar Rice Burroughs):
- Talandri (craftsmans, similar to eartlings but smaller and with red skin).
- Chanari (savages inhabiting the most inhospital zones of Mars, far from rigid martian social structures, with a physical resemblance to the Talandri, but that has been shaped by the rigor of the land they inhabit).
- Pilthuri (merchants dedicated to ease economic contacts and of resources obtention between principalities and city-states).
- Kastari (devoted clerics whose religion is based in in the worship of Ancient Martian who built the canal system and partially terraformed the planet).
- Silthuri (royalty that rule the planet and also divided in many subordinate castes in charge of the bureaucratic apparatus, they are the tallest martians and their skin color ranges from darker ochre to lighter copper, usually hairless).
- Julandri (slaves whose appearance may vary widely depending on the task for which they were raised, so they can have muscular appearance if they engage in heavy work where great physical strength is needed or be very small if they only do cleanup).
- Maduri (heavy-set warriors who for centuries had their mind and body conditioned for war, are characterized by reddish-brown skin and between two and four bony protuberances like fangs in cheeks and lower jaw).
- Venusians (albeit similar to savage simians, with hairy pelts ranging in color from white to grey, they are capable of displaying a great sensibility and aesthetic sense and can be found in great numbers outside Venus).
Type of occupations it's possible to find is highly assorted and ranges from the more mundane, like Citizen or Native, to the more thrilling like Explorer or Rocket Pilot.
Characters are defined by six attributes (Awareness, Coordination, Ingenuity, Presence, Resolve and Strength) with scores ranging between 1 and 7 or more and twelve skills with scores ranging from 1 to 6 or more.
Traits can be of two types: Good ones (spending points buying them and represent an advantage for the characters) and Bad ones (getting points buying them and are a problem for the characters) and have a graduation which could be Minor (1 point), Major (2 points) or Special (variable cost) according to its importance. Traits can be of many types and include matters like having psychic powers or be good piloting a rocket.
If players still have points unspent after the above process they can use them to level up their attribute and skills scores or buy more traits to complete their characters.
The chapter devoted to equipment have a list and descriptions of weapons, tools and vehicles that characters may use during their adventures, including those of terrestrial origin and available during the 30s decade and those of the many native cultures of the solar system or obtained thanks to the archaeological investigations carried out in Mars that allowed North Americans to invent the rocket pack or Germans the biped war machines of the Deutsche Marskorps.
Third part explains the game system used by Rocket Age, the Vortex System (the same used by Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space), that basically uses the following roll mechanism:
2d6 + Attribute + Skill +/- mnodifiers = Result
The roll result is compared to the task difficulty, it can range from 3 (Incredibly Easy) to 30 (Nearly Impossible), with the chance of be succesful or fail in varying degrees.
Players also can use Story Points (they have 12 when creating characters) to acquire special equipment that can't be obtained otherwise, affect their rolls favorably or change the adventure course.
The fourth part contains a good number of ideas and adventure schemes that the referee can use as inspiration to create his own.
Finally, the referee also has a bestiary with all sorts of creatures and ideas for use in his adventures.
This supplement is completely dedicated to extend the information about Mars given in tha basic manual of Rocket Age and offers the following chapters:
Extends considerably the information contained in the basic manual describing city-states and principalities and how are they related to Eartlings that had started to settle (or invade) Mars these last years.
For each one of the places there's also adventure ideas and a character, whether native or coming from other worlds, the playing characters can interact with is described.
Examples of these sites are:
- Eroberung (the old G’Schanft Principality), conquered by Nazi Deutsche Marskorps in 1936.
- The Kalond Canal Valley, one of the richest regions of Mars and still retaining a very diverse ecosystem. Its nearly 300 principalities (many no more large than a city-state) have been affected by the campaign that the United States and Great Britain, along their Martian allies, carried out between 1934 and 1937 to conquer the zone; almost all are under Earthling control and cities that remain independent are considering weapons and tactics modernization programs for their Maduri warriors legions.
- Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain of the Solar System, dealing with great geological activity (earthquakes, minor eruptions, etc...) and where are supposed to be buried those who were the greatest among the Ancients, so it is not unusual to find anchorite hermits and sects that maintain places of worship on its slopes.
- Tarentia, a principality where petty warlords, counter-revolutionaries and bandits fight against the castes forming the People's Collective, with support from Soviet forces after the Ebb Revolution (which in 1936 brought Communism to Mars) and where the other eartlhing powers interventionism threatens to turn this civil war into a bloodbath.
Groups and organizations in Mars in 1938, whether native or from Earthling origin, are the following ones (in each case information about sample characters, types of characters and adventure ideas are offered):
- The 1e Légion Martien, structured in a similar manner as the French Foreign Legion, used by France to defend his Martian possessions and sometimes loaned as a mercenary force to Martian princes desiring to have a modern military force for their wars (something more frequent since the lightning conquest of the Kalond Canal Valley).
- The 1st Martian Expeditionary Force of the United States, with jurisdiction over all North American military forces in Mars and nowadays commanded by general George S. Patton, is in charge of protecting zones under its control and carry out operations against Martian principalities bordering Martian-American City-States.
- The 31st Seal, a Martian terrorist organization that carried out attacks against Earthling and collaborationist interests, first in the Kalond Canal Valley and after that in territories with Nazi and Soviet presence. Cells forming the 31st Seal hadn't doubted to attack civilian objectives, including archeological expeditions investigating Ancients' sites and Earthlings preachers trying to convert Martians to true faith.
- The Cilician Brotherhood, a pirate organization created, financed and directed by Arthur Roster, a rich and bored New Yorker needing adventures and strong emotions. The Brotherhood operate from its base in the Phobos moon and has in its ranks a varied sample of the scum in the solar system.
- The Cult of the Living Ancestor, a religious organization that rebelled against the Orthodox Fellowship and is operating in the Lascaont Canal Valley. Its members are peaceful and don't defend using violence, they believe in internal improvement (so a few had developed their psychic potential) and defend the heretical believe that the Martian caste system is an artificial invention used by upper castes to slave and dominate the others.
- The Deutsche Marskorps, commanded by Erwin Rommel, is the spearhead of Mars German colonization and is equiped both with conventional armor and walkers (war machines that German scientists built after analyzing Ancient's technology found by the Nazi archaeological expeditions).
- The Freebooters, groups searching fame, fortune and adventure and in some cases usurping small Martian principalities or working for Terrestrial and Martian governments.
- The Lincoln Brigade, originally related with the unit fighting in the Spanish Civil War in Republican side, it is in Mars to fight both Fascists already there and Martian dictators subjugating their people, it's also creating escape networks analogue to those of the black slaves in the American Civil War.
- Native Princes, still ruling many of the principalities although their influence had declinated in recent times. Princes make war one against the other and in many cases are considered by their subjects as beings akin to gods whose desires are to be obeyed, although Earthlings arrival is greatly menacing their position (but they don't doubt to make use of it if helps their plans).
- The Order of the Sacred Hamaxe, one of the three main religious groups of Mars, although still upholding traditional Martian values, it's not one of the most conservatives, makes good works and protecting the weak, so it's loved by the lowest castes as well.
- The Orthodox Fellowship, representing one of the most conservatives groups regarding Martian religion, so it also had been truly problematic for Earthling invaders.
- The Royal Martian Rifles, composed by Earthlings and Maduri loyal to British Crown, are still training in Great War tactics (something making them capable to face Martian princes forces) but it's not clear yet if they will be able to defeat a modern combat force like the Deutsche Marskorps.
- The Society of Eternal Bliss, ardent follower of the Martian religion defends that those prepared for the Trascendence are those showing psychic powers.
- US Department of State, responsible for diplomatic realtions with foreign governments, although in Mars case all its functions had been usurped by the Army and the 1st Martian Expeditionary Force, so it may start an interdepartamental war between the government agencies on Mars.
This chapter is dedicated specifically to the Chanari, an ethnic group composed by nomads whose origin precedes the age of the Ancients and had achieved to retain his culture without being too affected by the events of the last centuries.
The Chanari are divided by four main tribal groups:
- The Red-Blue tribes, dealing with commerce using caravans and travelling entertainment.
- The Green-Yellow tribes, living in the shores of the Great Silt Sea of the Northern Hemisphere of the planet, they are nomad herders, fishers and pirates. They have lost a great part of their territories to the Red-Black tribes, so there's a permanent state of war between both groups.
- The Red-Black tribes, inhabiting the deserts at the South and East of the Great Silt Sea and fighting the Green-Yellow tribes and the principalities of the zone.
- The Yellow-Red tribes, some of them adopting a nomad lifestyle, created fortresses in the Western Highlands and take agriculture.
Besides treating the tribal groups this chapter also offers new character archetypes and a brief list of weapons and equipment used by the Chanari.
Flora and fauna
This chapter expands the bestiary of the basic manual with animals and plants of Mars, with game statistics and ideas for using them in adventures. As examples of the bestiary may stand out the black silt spider (found in the shores of the Great Silt Sea), the desert hopper (like kangaroo but with bird legs) or the royal karn (a great bird that can't fly and used to pull noble Silthuri carriages).
New traits and equipment
As with the case of flora and fauna this chapter also offers an extensive list of traits, weapons and tools characters may find in Mars, including things like ray weapons of the Ancients or objects related with psychic powers.
The Stolen Artifact
To finish this supplement there's the adventure The Stolen Artifact happening in the city of Emancipation (the old Martian city of Yatharith), liberated by the Lincoln Brigade in 1938 and nowadays considered an open city where many businesses can be done. Playing characters will be involved in an investigation and intrigue plot that sometimes has a flavour of the film Casablanca.
Rocket Age and its supplement Blood Red Mars are a fantastic example of a pulp and classic science-fiction style role-playing game of rockets and ray guns that all people loving the genre will like.
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